Seanad debates

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Teaching Council (Amendment) Bill 2015: Second Stage


Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the House on the Second Stage of the Teaching Council (Amendment) Bill 2015. Before I turn to a more detailed explanation of the provisions of the Bill, I will explain its background and purpose. It caters for two overarching aims: underpinning the central role of the Teaching Council in the forthcoming statutory vetting arrangements for registered teachers, and amending and strengthening the statutory provisions relating to the Teaching Council's fitness to teach function.

On the Garda vetting of teachers, we are all agreed on how important it is that our teachers be vetted. The existing Garda vetting arrangements for the schools sector operate on a non-statutory basis and have been in place for new employees since 2006. Under these existing vetting arrangements, the Teaching Council is the registered organisation that liaises with the Garda Central Vetting Unit, GCVU, for the vetting of teachers and acts as a conduit for the approximately 3,500 individual recognised schools and education and training boards, ETBs, that employ registered teachers.

The Teaching Council plays a vital part in the State's overall child protection infrastructure for schools because it has the capacity to ensure any person it deems not suitable to teach will not be registered as a teacher. This Bill will underpin and strengthen this capacity and in doing so will ensure, in tandem with the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 provisions, that the vetting of all registered teachers, on an ongoing basis, will be provided for and carried out on a statutory basis.

The Bill, which is intended to be aligned with the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act, will make it more efficient for schools to meet the vetting requirements of that Act when it is commenced. The provisions in the Bill will help improve the workability of the vetting arrangements for schools and ETBs by enabling them to receive vetting disclosures in a streamlined, secure and timely manner through the Teaching Council's electronic register of teachers.

The number of teachers vetted under the non-statutory arrangements continues to increase steadily, with about 54,000 of the 90,000 teachers on the Teaching Council register now vetted. The remaining 36,000 who have not yet been vetted are typically permanent teachers who have been in the same school since the period prior to the introduction of vetting in 2006. I consider it very important that such teachers would be vetted under the forthcoming statutory vetting arrangements, for two reasons. First, the forthcoming statutory arrangements under the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 will include a check for both criminal offences and also any relevant "soft information", which is an important new element of the vetting procedures. Second, when this Bill is enacted, there will be a clear statutory basis for the Teaching Council to require such teachers to undergo vetting and for it to deal with any adverse vetting disclosure that might be received.

Removing a teacher from the Teaching Council register is the best way of achieving child protection across all recognised schools. Both the Teaching Council and I are mindful of the need to ensure all registered teachers are vetted, and I am aware that it is the council's intention to prioritise this work in the year after enactment of this legislation. What is important is that this Bill provides that renewal of a teacher's registration will be linked to compliance with the Bill's vetting requirements. The Bill also ensures there will be a robust statutory basis for the Teaching Council to consider, in the case of any teacher who is the subject of an adverse vetting disclosure, whether the teacher's registration should be renewed.

This Bill will prepare the ground for the commencement, for the first time, of fitness-to-practice procedures for the teaching profession. This is a key part of any professional regulatory system. The enhanced measures now being put in place will help to ensure high-quality standards of teaching can be upheld by the council through the operation of fair, robust and effective fitness to teach processes. This Bill provides for a number of changes to the fitness to teach provisions of the Teaching Council Act before their commencement in order that the Teaching Council can undertake this important regulatory role in an effective manner and that the fitness to teach provisions are updated to take account of the new statutory vetting arrangements.

The purpose of the council's fitness to teach role is to uphold standards and protect children. Robust procedures, which are transparent and fair, will underpin the council's work. When these provisions are commenced, any person, including members of the public, employers, other teachers or the Teaching Council itself, will be able to make a complaint about a registered teacher. Issues of sufficient gravity will result in an inquiry. The council will have the capacity to remove a teacher from the register where it deems the person unfit to teach, including where this is for child protection reasons. This Bill will also improve the capacity of the Teaching Council to deal with complaints that indicate a risk of harm to a child or vulnerable adult by empowering it to seek a vetting disclosure in respect of the teacher concerned as part of a fitness to teach inquiry. It is important to bear in mind, however, that the fitness to teach function will also serve to identify areas where teachers can take action to address underperformance or conduct issues. It is also important to note that these processes will not displace the existing disciplinary procedures available to employers at school level. Such procedures will normally be completed before the Teaching Council conducts an inquiry, and in many cases it would be expected that the matter would be resolved at school level.

Fitness to teach hearings should be held in public by default, mirroring recent legislation for other professional regulators, specifically the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland and the Medical Council. Public fitness to teach hearings are also the practice internationally, including in England, Scotland, Wales, New Zealand and Ontario, some of which have similar education systems to our own. In reaching my decision on this aspect of the Bill, I was conscious that a balance must be struck between the rights of individuals, both teachers and other parties to complaints, and the requirement that transparent and fair arrangements be in place such that the wider public can have confidence in both these arrangements and their outcomes. The drafting of the fitness to teach provisions of the Bill has taken account of approaches taken by other regulators, both local and international, in addition to relevant case law. In this way, it is intended that a framework will be created that meets the public interest while also being fair to all. I understand the concerns teachers may have about public fitness to teach hearings. My officials have been in dialogue with the teacher unions on this aspect of the Bill and I am grateful for the exchange of views in that context. I recognise that there may be circumstances where it is appropriate for hearings, or parts of hearings, to be held in private. Accordingly, I will be bringing forward an amendment to provide that the disciplinary committee, having considered the request of a teacher or a witness and where it considers there is "reasonable and sufficient cause", may hold all or part of a hearing in private. It is important to be aware that no case will proceed to a hearing without going through several stages designed to exclude less serious complaints that would not merit a full disciplinary inquiry.

I will outline to the House the details of these stages. First, the Teaching Council's director will screen complaints and reject those deemed to be vexatious, frivolous, made in bad faith or an abuse of process. If a complaint progresses, it will be considered by the investigating committee which must, following its inquiry, decide if there is a prima faciecase to warrant further action being taken before the complaint is sent to the disciplinary committee. At that stage, the disciplinary committee may hold an inquiry. A panel consisting of three to five members of the disciplinary committee will be formed for the purposes of an inquiry and the majority of the panel must be teachers.

Under the current Act, there is provision for an inquiry to be held on the basis of an examination of documents, which might be appropriate in some cases, and it is intended that this provision will be retained. Given what I have said, only a small number of complaints will progress to a hearing, while a smaller number again will result in hearings being held in public.

The overall approach will have regard to long-standing principles of natural justice in respect of individuals' rights, rights such as the safeguarding of minors or vulnerable adults, the protection of private lives and professional reputation, and privacy concerning medical issues. I am satisfied that this is the appropriate approach to take. I also plan to include express provision that the registered teacher who is the subject of the hearing is entitled to be represented at the hearing and will be furnished in advance with information on evidence in support of the complaint.

As well as the conduct of hearings in public, I will provide for the publication by the council of the outcome of disciplinary hearings where it is in the public interest to do so and the notification of findings against a teacher to regulators outside the State, where appropriate. This and other provisions are in keeping with the arrangements applying to other professional regulators and the legal provisions will be similar to those already in place. I intend to commence the fitness to teach provisions as early as possible after enactment of the Bill.

The Bill, as passed by the Dail, has 24 sections which I will outline in more detail. Sections 1 and 2 are concerned with definitions and interpretations relevant to the Bill.

Section 3 amends the functions of the Teaching Council to provide that in addition to the functions specified in the existing Act, it will be a function of the council to obtain or receive vetting disclosures for the purposes set out in the Bill for the purpose of its role as a relevant organisation, as defined in the National Vetting Bureau Act 2012, or for the purpose of its role as a relevant organisation in representing another relevant organisation under the National Vetting Bureau Act 2012. This provision makes it clear that the council may seek vetting disclosures for the purposes of the registration and fitness to teach provisions of the Bill and ensures its role as a conduit for schools and ETBs in the forthcoming statutory vetting arrangements is given statutory underpinning. The section also amends the functions to provide that the council shall in the performance of its functions under the Act have regard to the need to protect children and vulnerable adults.

Section 4 amends section 8 of the Act to update, reflecting recent institutional changes, the bodies providing primary and post-primary initial teacher education which nominate persons for appointment to the council.

Section 5 provides that the information to be entered in the register on a registered teacher, as prescribed by the Teaching Council, shall, in addition to existing information, include whether the registration is subject to conditions set at initial registration stage or at renewal of registration stage and the information disclosed by the most recent vetting disclosure in the possession of the council on the person. This amendment will enable the council to provide a streamlined electronic mechanism to enable a school employer to access the vetting disclosure electronically in respect of a teacher that it intends to employ. This approach facilitates a centralised and accessible mechanism for school-ETB employers to receive disclosures on teachers via the register and in compliance with the National Vetting Bureau Act 2012. It is important to note that records held electronically by the council will not be accessible, other than to an employer for the purposes of obtaining a disclosure under the National Vetting Bureau Act and in such circumstances only with the consent and knowledge of the teacher in question and in compliance with data protection legislation. The section also clarifies that the existing provisions of the Act which relate to publishing the register, making it available for inspection and providing for a copy of an entry or extract to be made available on request are subject to any enactment or rule of law which would prohibit the disclosure of such information.

Section 6 updates section 30 of the 2001 Act. The existing section 30 provides that a person employed as a teacher in a recognised school shall not be remunerated out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas where he or she is not a registered teacher or where he or she is removed or suspended from the register. Section 6 substitutes the existing section 30 of the Act and updates the existing wording to cross-reference an amendment made to the Education Act, 1998 under the Education (Amendment) Act 2012 that makes provision for the employment in certain exceptional and limited circumstances of persons who are not registered teachers and amendments being made under the Bill to sections 44 and 47 of the Act which I will outline.

Section 7 amends section 31 of the 2001 Act to make it mandatory for the Teaching Council to obtain and consider a vetting disclosure before initially putting a teacher on the register. This is already the practice of the council on an administrative basis since Garda vetting was introduced in September 2006. The Bill makes statutory provision for vetting disclosures from the bureau to be assessed for all new applicants for registration. It provides for the council to consider a vetting disclosure to determine if a person is a fit and proper person to be admitted to the register and that the council shall refuse registration where the person has not consented to vetting or where the council, in accordance with the section, is not satisfied that the person is a fit and proper person to be registered. It also provides for a revised text relating to the powers of the council to make regulations in respect of initial registration. The section also makes some technical amendments to the existing provisions which provide for the council to refuse to register a person where he or she stands removed or suspended from the register and for the council to register a person with conditions.

Section 8 makes provision for transitional arrangements to deal with applications for registration received prior to the coming into operation of section 7 of the Bill.

Section 9 places a requirement on a person to provide his or her consent to vetting at initial registration stage or where he or she is requested by the Teaching Council to do so for the purposes of renewal of his or her registration.

Section 10 provides that where a teacher's initial registration is subject to conditions that have been applied by the High Court following an appeal, the teacher shall be removed from the register where he or she fails to comply with any of these conditions.

Section 11 amends section 33 to provide for revised text relating to the powers of the Teaching Council to make regulations for the purpose of renewal of registration which shall, inter alia, provide for the form and manner of an application for renewal of registration and the documentary and other evidence that the Teaching Council may seek to enable it to satisfy itself that a person is a fit and proper person to have his or her registration renewed.

The section also makes provision for retrospective vetting and re-vetting arrangements for registered teachers in the context of renewal of their registration. It is aimed at ensuring all registered teachers who have never been vetted will be vetted and provision is made for periodic re-vetting of registered teachers on an ongoing basis. It is not intended that all 90,000 registered teachers will be vetted on each annual renewal of registration. The section allows the council to plan and undertake such vetting in a structured and phased manner and sets out what it will have regard to when considering whether to seek a vetting disclosure in respect of a teacher for renewal of his or her registration. In that regard, the section will enable the council to prioritise the vetting of those teachers who were never vetted under the non-statutory arrangements and to subsequently address those who have been vetted under the existing non-statutory arrangements but who have not been vetted under the new statutory vetting arrangements and to provide thereafter for periodic re-vetting of all registered teachers to be undertaken on an ongoing basis.

The section also contains provisions relating to the Teaching Council giving written notice to a teacher where it intends to seek a vetting disclosure as part of renewal of registration. The section outlines when the council shall refuse to renew a teacher's registration such as where a teacher has failed to comply with a vetting request within the required timeframe and it has not been in a position to determine if he or she is a fit and proper person to have his or her registration renewed. The section also provides that a teacher may within 21 days apply to the High Court for an annulment of a decision by the council to refuse to renew his or her registration or to renew it subject to conditions. This amendment will bring the renewal stage of the registration process into line with other stages of the registration process where such an appeal mechanism is already in place such as at initial registration stage or in the case of removal from the register following an inquiry under the fitness to teach procedures. Section 12 inserts a new section 33A in the principal Act and provides that, where a teacher's registration is renewed subject to conditions, the teacher can apply to the council for an extension to the period within which the conditions must be complied with, and that the council has discretion on whether to agree to such an extension. It also provides that where conditions set by the council, or the High Court where relevant, are not complied with the teacher will be removed from the register. These provisions for renewal stage mirror the arrangements already in place in section 32 for initial registration stage, to deal with an extension of the period within which to comply with conditions or removal from the register if conditions are not met.

Section 13 is by way of a technical amendment to provide that where, prior to section 11 of the Bill coming into operation, the period for compliance with a condition imposed at initial registration exceeded the period of that initial registration and that person's registration is subsequently renewed, that renewed registration will be subject to the original condition for any remaining outstanding period for compliance. Section 14 amends section 34 of the 2001 Act. Section 34 of the 2001 Act allows for a notice period of one month following the expiry of a teacher's registration to be provided to a teacher who fails to apply for renewal and for that teacher to be removed from the register at the end of that month unless he or she has applied for renewal and paid the relevant renewal fee to the council within that one-month period.

Section 14 amends section 34 of the 2001 Act to provide that in the case of a teacher who is required to comply with a vetting requirement at renewal of registration, this notice period provision will apply only where he or she has complied with those vetting requirements. The existing section 34 also requires that where an application has been made for inquiry under Part 5 of the Act, dealing with fitness to teach, and that person fails to apply for renewal of registration, the person shall not be removed from the register until such time as that inquiry is completed. This provision, along with a number of others, is also being amended to be consistent with changes being made to the wording of Part 5, for example changing the wording from "application" to "complaint" and "applicant" to "complainant" etc., and to make specific reference to the various provisions of Part 5 under which a fitness to teach process can reach conclusion. Similarly, section 15 simply amends the wording of section 35 to be consistent with other changes being made to wording and to make specific reference to the various provisions of Part 5 under which a fitness to teach process can reach conclusion.

Section 16 amends Section 42 of the 2001 Act. That section sets out the procedures for complaints against teachers and the role and processes to be followed by the director and the investigating committee in respect of such complaints. Section 16 is necessarily detailed so as to set out clearly the powers and procedures applicable at the preliminary stages in the fitness to teach process, including in relation to the treatment of vetting disclosures. It amends section 42 of the 2001 Act to outline a range of matters which may be the subject of a complaint against a teacher, such as contravention of education legislation, professional misconduct, poor professional performance, conduct contrary to the code of professional conduct for teachers, erroneous or fraudulent registration, medical unfitness, or convictions for an offence triable on indictment.

Under this section, the council itself may make a complaint in relation to a registered teacher on the ground that the information disclosed in a vetting disclosure, which has been received by the Council in its conduit role for schools and ETBs, is of such a nature as to reasonably give rise to a bona fide concern that the teacher may harm or attempt to harm any child or vulnerable person, cause any child or vulnerable person to or be harmed or put any child or vulnerable person at risk of harm. The director will have a role in screening complaints received by the council. Where the director refuses to refer a complaint to the investigating committee, the director's decision can be appealed directly to the investigating committee by the complainant.

This section of the Bill also provides, where the investigating committee decides to hold an inquiry and the nature of the complaint raises a bona fide concern of harm, that the committee shall request the council to apply to the national vetting bureau for a vetting disclosure in respect of the teacher for the purposes of considering the conduct alleged in the complaint. Where the investigating committee receives a vetting disclosure the teacher concerned shall be provided with a copy of the disclosure and invited to make submissions.

Provision is also made for the employer, where the employer is known to the council, to be informed as soon as possible where on foot of a complaint there is a bona fide concern that the teacher may harm or attempt to harm any child or vulnerable person, cause any child or vulnerable person to be harmed, put any child or vulnerable person at risk of harm or incite another person to harm any child or vulnerable person. This section outlines the areas for complaint which can be considered following the coming into operation of this part of the Act, notwithstanding that the conduct in question occurred prior to its coming into operation. It also makes clear what information and documents the investigating committee may require or request from relevant parties including the complainant, the teacher, the school or schools where the teacher is or was employed, or other parties.

The section introduces a threshold to be reached before the investigating committee will refer a case to the next stage of the process. That threshold is that the investigating committee must be of the opinion that there is a prima faciecase to warrant further action. This will ensure that only cases that merit a disciplinary inquiry and hearing will be progressed to that stage. This section also includes a definition of "document" to ensure that digital documents or photographs, for example, can be sought by the investigating committee.

Section 17 amends section 43 of the 2001 Act. Section 43 deals with Inquiries of the disciplinary committee, following referral of a complaint by the investigating committee. Section 17 amends section 43 to outline the steps to be taken by the disciplinary committee and its panels, including the matters to be specified in inquiry reports, which are: the nature of the complaint; the evidence laid before the panel; the panel's findings; the relevance of the findings to fitness to teach where the complaint related to a conviction; and any other matter the panel considers appropriate.

Where the inquiry was conducted in relation to a complaint made by the council on foot of information in a vetting disclosure it received in its conduit role for a school or ETB employer and the panel, having regard to the protection of children and vulnerable persons, is satisfied that there is a risk that the person may harm or attempt to harm any child or vulnerable person, cause any child or vulnerable person to be harmed, put any child or vulnerable person at risk of harm or incite another person to harm any child or vulnerable person, the panel's report must specify the nature of the information disclosed in the vetting disclosure, the evidence laid before the panel and its assessment of and conclusion in respect of the risk. The Bill also makes provision for the panel to dismiss the complaint where it makes no finding against the teacher.

Section 18 amends section 44 of the 2001 Act to add a new sanction "to advise, admonish, or censure the registered teacher in writing" to the range of sanctions already provided for, which include, for example, removal or suspension from the register or retention subject to conditions. It outlines that an adverse decision of the disciplinary committee, other than a decision to advise, admonish, or censure in writing, may be appealed to the High Court. It also provides for references to the Supreme Court to be replaced with references to the Court of Appeal and that, where following an appeal to the High Court, a teacher is suspended or removed from the register and leave is granted to appeal to the Court of Appeal, the relevant court shall, where the teacher is employed as a teacher in a recognised school, make a direction as to whether the teacher shall continue to be paid pursuant to his or her contract of employment out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas.

Section 19 amends section 45 to provide that where a registered teacher fails to comply with a condition imposed by the High Court on appeal, he or she shall be removed from the register. Section 20 amends section 47 to provide that the High Court, where it is has ordered that a teacher's registration be suspended, shall also, where the teacher is employed in a recognised school, make a direction on whether the teacher shall continue to be paid pursuant to his or her contract of employment, out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas.

Section 21 amends schedule 3 of the 2001 Act to ensure consistency with the wording of section 42 and for the same definition of "document" to be included. It also makes provision to ensure that there is a lawful basis for a vetting disclosure obtained by the investigating committee to be provided to and considered by the disciplinary panel appointed to deal with the complaint in question and to allow the panel itself to request a vetting disclosure where one has not previously been obtained and where the panel considers that the complaint gives rise to a bona fide harm concern.

Section 22 provides for section 24(7)(b) of the Education Act 1998, as amended by section 6 of the Education (Amendment) Act 2012, to be amended to clarify the type of information relating to the registration status of teachers that the teaching council is required, under section 24 of the 1998 Act, to provide to the Minister or an education and training board, such as where a teacher has been removed from the register following a fitness to teach process. Section 23 provides for the repeal of section 41 of the Act, reflecting some restructuring of the fitness to teach provisions to bring them more in line with more recent statutes. Section 24 provides for the Short Title of the Act, for the collective citation of the Teaching Council Acts and the Education Acts and for standard provisions relating to commencement of this Act.

I wish to also inform the House that during the passage of the Bill I intend to introduce an amendment to provide for fitness to teach hearings to be held in public as the default position, while providing for exceptions where necessary to protect the rights of individuals. My officials will consult with the teaching council regarding the factors that could be considered in such cases. This will ensure that the new fitness to teach framework will mirror best practice as regards disciplinary hearings for other professional bodies.

The changes now being brought forward will make a very significant contribution to safeguarding children in our schools and to upholding the high standards of teaching that students, and society, expect and deserve. I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Jim WalshJim Walsh (Fianna Fail)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach inniu chun an Bille um Chomhairle Mhúinteoireacta (Leasú) 2015 a phlé. Is fada an lá ó bhí mise ar scoil ach déanfaidh mé mo dhícheall labhairt faoin mBille agus faoin ábhar tábhachtach seo.

I did not get much notice about speaking on the Bill but I listened with care to what the Minister said. She dealt with the technicalities of the Bill, which is comprehensive. Fianna Fáil has been consistent in calling on the Minister to address inadequate Garda vetting of new and existing teachers in schools for a long time. In that regard, we welcome the mandatory vetting procedures provided for in this legislation. We call on her to follow through, by ensuring Garda vetting for new and existing teachers is treated as a priority, is expedited and properly resourced.

The Bill underpins the role of the Teaching Council in the forthcoming statutory vetting arrangements but also amends the Teaching Council Act 2001 and the Education Act by strengthening the statutory provisions relating to the Teaching Council's fitness to teach function, or as the Minister put it more succinctly in her speech - the purpose of the council's fitness to teach role is to uphold standards and protect children. That is something to which we would all subscribe.

The Teaching Council is made up of two thirds teachers and their union representatives. That seems to be quite a high proportion of teachers. How much representation is there for parents on the Teaching Council? In addition, how much representation is allowed for independent people such as former judges or people with experience of the Labour Court, for example? I refer to people who would have had an adjudicative role during their lifetime and would have had considerable experience in that regard. To what extent are such people involved in the Teaching Council? It is important to have as many independent voices as possible in such areas to ensure a robust process is employed in the vetting procedures.

Under this legislation the council will have the capacity to remove a teacher from the register where it deems the person is unfit to teach, including as the Minister rightly said, where child protection issues are involved. The council will also be charged with investigating underperformance or conduct issues on foot of complaints from students, parents and teachers, among others. In general, it is fair to say that teachers are held in high regard in the community. There was concern following the demise of religious teachers who gave freely of their time, in particular those who played a significant role in extra-curricular activities such as sport, but many teachers are now doing that, which is to be welcomed. They go beyond the normal duty of care and responsibility of the job and provide in many other ways for their students. That is appreciated by parents. In a recent survey 87% of parents expressed satisfaction with teachers. What criteria will be applied by the Teaching Council to determine the fitness or capacity of a teacher to be effective? Will comparative results be used? What sanctions will be employed other than being removed from the register? I will return to the matter later in the debate.

When my children were going through school and subsequently college, we were blessed with excellent teachers. However, in one instance all the students who were getting honours in other classes did consistently badly in one subject over a period of years. The view was that the teacher was not up to the job, despite the best will in the world. Such a situation is unfair to students who depend on a good education for success in their future career and in life. Could the Minister please clarify the position when she replies to the debate?

Fianna Fáil welcomes the mandatory part of the registration process for Garda vetting. That is essential and is long overdue. It will also give the council the power to retrospectively require the vetting ofregistered teachers and to have periodic re-vetting of registered teachers. This means registered teachers who have never been vetted by the Garda, as well as those who have not been vetted in a long time, will be subject to the Teaching Council’s vetting process in the future.

The figures reveal that approximately 40% of the 90,000 registered teachers have yet to be Garda vetted. The vetting arrangements will, in addition to the existing check for criminal offences, also include a check for any relevant soft information. This is referred to as specified information that leads to a bona fide belief that a person poses a threat to children or vulnerable persons. When she replies, could the Minister clarify how the system will operate in practice. It strikes me as an area where it would be very difficult to discern the potential risk, unless a person has previously offended and it is common for people who offend to be cunning. Will records be maintained of the vetting process and will the information be reviewed in the event of a teacher subsequently offending? Will there be accountability for the performance of the Teaching Council in terms of rechecking the information?

Teachers may within 21 days apply to the High Court. That is a very costly process and not very many people can afford to go to court, unless they are very wealthy. That is due to the failure of the Government and previous Governments to tackle exorbitant legal fees, despite the prompting of the troika and various other bodies over many years. Could we not have a more effective system in place which would not involve such a prohibitive cost for teachers?

Complainants must be willing to engage with an investigation. Would that pose difficulties for parents, for example, who may have concerns about subsequent repercussions for their child in a school, in particular with an individual teacher, by virtue of signalling unhappiness with a teacher?

The Minister pointed out in the context of section 6 that a person employed as a teacher in a recognised school should not be remunerated out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas where a person is not a registered teacher, or where a person is removed or suspended from the register. That would seem to imply that non-registered teachers may be working in the system who are perhaps financed from some other source. Could the Minister clarify the position in that regard? If my interpretation is correct it would mean teachers who are not vetted are in the system, which would be unacceptable.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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In the absence of my colleague, Senator Jim D’Arcy who is on Council of Europe business today, I welcome the Minister and the Bill before us. As has been said, the Bill caters for two main overarching aims, namely, underpinning the central role of the Teaching Council in the forthcoming statutory vetting arrangements for registered teachers and amending and strengthening the statutory provisions relating to the Teaching Council's fitness to teach function.

The Bill provides a clear statutory basis for the role of the Teaching Council in the arrangements for vetting registered teachers and improving the workability of those vetting arrangements. That is to be welcomed because we had a ludicrous situation whereby temporary teachers, who were possibly in different schools in different years, had to go through a new vetting procedure every time. It was both cumbersome and unworkable, as well as being a waste of Garda resources.

The Bill also provides a straightforward approach to vetting teachers who have never been vetted previously. It came as a surprise to me that only 60% of the 90,000 teachers on the Teaching Council's register have been vetted. Some 30,000 have not yet been vetted, but I can appreciate that typically they would be permanent teachers who were in the same school prior to the introduction of vetting in 2006.

I welcome the Minister's commitment to ensure that the bulk of those teachers will be vetted within the first year following the commencement of the new legislation.

I also welcome the fact that the statutory arrangements will include a check both for criminal offences and the soft information to which Senator Walsh referred. I would like the Minister to provide some examples of how that will work.

When the Bill is enacted there will be a clear basis for the Teaching Council to require teachers to undergo vetting to deal with any adverse vetting disclosures that may be received. As the Minister said in her speech, removing a teacher from the Teaching Council is the best way of achieving child protection across all recognised schools. We can only look back and wonder what might have been if vetting had been in schools many decades ago, and the amount of trauma that could have been prevented for many vulnerable people.

While discussing fitness to teach arrangements, I wish to acknowledge the teacher's role in society. Teachers have a major influence in shaping young people's lives. We can all clearly recall the positive impact a particular teacher may have had on our own lives as we went through school. We recall that good teachers had an ability to communicate well, were always well respected, and discipline was never an issue in their classes. They had a love of learning and motivated children by engaging them and challenging them. Above all, they had empathy for the weaker student and were alert to issues that such a student may have had to cope with outside the classroom.

As we all know, the kindness of a teacher at a difficult time is never forgotten. The job of a teacher is so important for the future of society that we must ensure teachers are motivated, well trained and receive continuous career development. In that way they will have a long and fulfilling career in education, and their students will get a quality education.

Issues including temporary contracts and hours are on the Minister's desk to be addressed and, hopefully, as the economy improves we will see many more permanent contracts so people will have security of tenure.

The majority of teachers give outstanding service and they work above and beyond the call of duty. Many give generously of their time and talents to extra-curricular activities which are often not appreciated. Senator Walsh mentioned the amount of time that many teachers put into sport, plays, concerts, debates and other school activities.

As in any profession, however, there will be poor performers, professional misconduct or medical unfitness. Teaching is a very demanding job and poor performers and absenteeism can place severe pressure on teaching colleagues. These issues have to be addressed as it is critical that all children are taught in a safe and professional environment where every child has an equal opportunity to get the best possible education.

The Teaching Council is the professional standards body for teaching in Ireland. It promotes and regulates the teaching profession. Fitness to teach must be understood in the context of this particular remit. It is one part of the significant work of the council in pursuing, maintaining and enhancing the quality of teaching in our schools. This means that fitness to teach is fundamentally about improving teaching and should not be seen as being about punishing teachers.

The experience of other teaching councils shows that where teachers engage fully and openly with the process, better outcomes for all are achieved. I can appreciate the concerns that have been raised about hearings being held in public. I note that the Minister has decided that hearings will be held in public by default, and that she will be seeking the council's views on how this will be implemented in practice. That is to be welcomed.

I also note the recent Supreme Court decision which means that bodies such as the Teaching Council should only deal with serious issues. This safeguard comes in addition to the provision of the Teaching Council Act, which provides that the director can refuse a complaint that is frivolous or vexatious. That is a real possibility and a real problem. The council's investigating committee also reviews complaints to see if they should be referred to the disciplinary committee.

In the course of her speech the Minister outlined how the process will work and the welcome safeguards that are there for teachers. We want to ensure that teachers are treated fairly, issues are dealt with objectively, and people's civil rights are protected. Issues must be dealt with properly and appropriately. The current disciplinary procedure is inadequate. Boards of management are not equipped to deal with disciplinary issues such as teacher performance or misconduct where dismissal might be warranted. The Teaching Council is the appropriate body to deal with these issues.

I welcome the Bill which, as the Minister said, is about safeguarding children and ensuring all children are educated to the highest standards in a safe and appropriate environment. I commend the Minister on the work she has done. I thank her for the assurances she has given to the teacher unions which had some concerns about certain issues.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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Tá cúig nóimead ag an Seanadóir Ó Clochartaigh.

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire. Tá mé thar a bheith sásta go bhfuilimid ag plé an Bille um Chomhairle Mhúinteoireachta (Leasú) 2015 inniu. Is Bille é seo a bhfuilimid a bheag nó a mhór ag tacú leis.

Sinn Féin welcomes the opportunity to discuss the Teaching Council (Amendment) Bill, of which we are broadly supportive. We await the Minister's tabling of further amendments and seek clarification as to why such amendments, if intended, have not yet been tabled.

We agree that there must be a statutory basis for the Teaching Council in vetting registered teachers. The council will then act as a conduit for schools that need to obtain vetting disclosures for teachers they employ. The current system is unwieldy and there appear to be differing figures on how many of the 90,000 teachers currently employed in the Twenty-six Counties are actually vetted. It could be anything up to 40,000 and, as we have heard, it is certainly over 30,000 due to the fact that only newly qualified teachers and post-career break teachers must be vetted. It is agreed that that situation is unacceptable because everyone in our school system should be vetted.

Special needs assistants are not teachers and will not come under this legislation. It will therefore still be the responsibility of the school to attend to that administrative matter. My colleague, Deputy Jonathan O'Brien, has raised this issue previously. He has pointed to the fact that the Department of Education and Skills does not hold information on how many SNAs are vetted or not.

I understand it may not be feasible to require vetting for the likes of an electrical contractor or other workers who come into a school on a temporary basis to fix lighting systems or alarms, or whatever other jobs they may be asked to do over a couple of days. However, SNAs work in quite close proximity to students. This is something that must be looked at and I am not aware that the Minister has addressed the matter since that contribution was made. Deputy O’Brien also raised the matter of offences that were triable on indictment affecting the ability to teach of those convicted of conflict related offences. The Minister replied that the provision within the Bill was concerned only with offences that were related to a person's fitness to teach. The Minister may be confident that this alone is sufficient but I remain unconvinced and would like to see it explicitly outlined within the Bill that conflict related convictions are not included. There are many former political prisoners who will feel the same way and there are certainly those within the political establishment who are anti-peace process and would be quite likely to argue that an indictable offence is an indictable offence regardless of context. I urge the Minister to clarify this.

We have some concerns, which were raised by various Deputies, around the terminology of "fit and proper" in the context of the Bill. These are vague terms and are open to broad interpretation. We currently have a situation where teachers can be sacked for being gay if they are in the wrong school and it is perfectly legal. We do not want inadvertently to create a situation where a teacher cannot be registered because their political activity is not to the liking of the Teaching Council and speaking out about decimated education budgets is not deemed to be proper activity fit for a teacher. The Minister may dismiss this out of hand, but the legislation allows for this vista. It does not do anything to address precariousness in the workplace for teachers, and although we were told that the Ward report would be implemented in September, it has not happened yet.

Ar cheist atá gar do mo chrói féin, múineadh na Gaeilge, sílim go bhfuil gá an caighdeán fágála seachas an caighdeán iontrála atá ag múinteoir le Gaeilge a dheimhniú. Ba chomhair go mbeadh dualgas ar An Chomhairle Mhúinteoireachta deimhniú go bhfuil an múinteoir "fit for purpose" ó thaobh múineadh na Gaeilge chomh maith. Bhí tuairisc againn le déanaí ón príomh chigire a léirigh go raibh 25% de múinteoirí bunscoile agus 33% de múinteoirí Gaeilge iarbhunscoile le cumas lag sa Ghaeilge. B'fhiú breathnú ar sin i gcomhthéacs an Bhille seo.

Tá ceist mhór ann ó thaobh cáilíochtaí múinteoirí le Gaeilge. An féidir linn breathnú ar rud éigin a chur isteach sa Bhille seo gur gá go bhfuil an duine cáilithe le múineadh i scoil Bhéarla, i scoil Gaeilge nó Gaeltachta nó insan dá cheann, mar tá difríocht sa chaighdeán ó thaobh na múinteoirí atá ag múineadh Gaeilge amháin i scoileanna lán Bhéarla, trí mheán na Gaeilge i nGaelscoil nó trí mheán na Gaeilge sa Ghaeltacht. Sílim go bhfuil ról ag An Chomhairle Múinteoireachta anseo.

We are concerned that the Bill does not address the issues pertaining to bullying of teachers in the workplace. We acknowledge that it can be difficult for a school to get rid of an underperforming teacher who is terrible at their job, but the vast majority of teachers do not fall into that category. Where a teacher is subject to bullying in the workplace, it is more often than not the case that the board of management and principals are a law unto themselves. We would like to see this Bill tightened up but I understand there needs to be some element of flexibility. It was for this reason that Sinn Féin tabled an amendment calling for a review of this Bill two years after its enactment. It would be good practice to do this.

We have more concerns which we will address on Committee Stage. In saying this, we are broadly supportive of the Bill because of our overarching belief in the need to prioritise child protection concerns and standardised vetting, but we would hope that the Minister takes on board the concerns we have raised. Go raibh maith agaibh.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister to the House and welcome the Teaching Council (Amendment) Bill 2015. I am standing in for my colleague, our education spokesperson, Senator Mary Moran, who is a teacher herself.

It is important to note that this Bill to amend the 2001 Teaching Council Act is achieving cross-party support. Its overarching aims are to strengthen the statutory provisions relating to the Teaching Council's fitness to teach function and to underpin the central role of the Teaching Council in the forthcoming statutory vetting arrangements for registered teachers. Both of these are extremely important from the point of view of children and teachers because they enhance child protection measures while also leading to further professionalisation of the teaching profession to ensure it becomes a fully regulated profession in line with other regulated professions. Other colleagues have spoken of the high regard in which teachers are held in this country, and that is true. They are hugely respected as professionals, but it is important the legislation reflects the respect and esteem in which they are held.

We recently debated the Legal Services Regulation Bill concerning the regulation of my own profession, and some of the key attributes of that Bill, most notably around transparency and accountability, which are reforms I fully support, pertain to all regulated professions. The fitness to teach provisions in this Bill are part of that. I note the Minister's comments that while there are already provisions in the parent Act of 2001, it was required to make a number of changes to the fitness to teach provisions before their commencement and before they are fully effective.

Vetting is an issue into which we on the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality have had a significant input. We took hearings on the vetting legislation before it was enacted in 2012 and we heard from a range of different groups and bodies, including the teaching profession, about just how important the Bill was. It is a matter of great concern that it is not yet commenced and I have taken this up with the Minister for Justice and Equality. The Garda vetting bureau is doing immensely important and extensive work and I note that the Minister said over 60% of the approximately 90,000 teachers on the Teaching Council register are now vetted and that it is intended that all teachers who have not been vetted, in particular those permanent teachers who have been in situin the same school since prior to the introduction of vetting, will be vetted under the new statutory vetting arrangements as soon as possible after this legislation is enacted. Nevertheless, there is a real concern about the vetting legislation itself. I accept this is not in the remit of the Minister for Education and Science but is proper to the Minister for Justice and Equality.

The 2014 UK Supreme Court decision in R (T) v. the Greater Manchester chief constable, in which a blanket disclosure provision whereby very minor convictions were disclosed in respect of each individual was held to be in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, has necessitated a review not only of the Vetting Act but of the spent convictions legislation, and we are awaiting amendments in this regard.

The Minister said there would be an electronic mechanism for the Teaching Council when the vetting procedures are in place and I welcome that. I also welcome the fact that the Bill will enable the council to put in place an electronic mechanism to help streamline vetting arrangements for both registered teachers and schools to ensure registered teachers who need to provide employers with vetting information for employment purposes will be able to do so in a straightforward and streamlined manner. One of the key issues we addressed in the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality when we were looking at the vetting legislation was logistics and how one could achieve a simplified process which is sufficiently protective of children. The other welcome and very practical point made by the Minister was on the rolling arrangements for vetting so that it will not necessarily be the case that each teacher will be vetted each year.

I will conclude by stepping outside the remit of this Bill to note that in my own area of third level education there have been some developments in recent days around issues concerning the investments of third level institutions. In the Trócaire conference about climate justice in NUI Maynooth, the president of the university said there would be no investment in fossil fuels by his university. Mary Robinson, chancellor of my own university, Trinity College Dublin, has said she will look at whether Trinity College makes any investments in fossil fuels. There has been a large movement towards divestment and a moving away from investments in fossil fuels across the education sector generally and internationally in cases such as Oxford University and Georgetown University. Other non-education institutions such as the Church of England have also made commitments to move away from such investments. I realise it is completely outside the issue of the Teaching Council but I thought it might be worth raising since this is being spoken about in Maynooth as we debate this Bill and it is clearly a hugely important issue. Many institutions in the education system and outside will be asking themselves if they can divest and have more ethical investments as a result.

I commend the great work the Minister and her officials have done on this Bill. It is hugely important to make amendments to the existing parent legislation on the Teaching Council as it has become clear since the Teaching Council was established in 2006 that certain amendments were needed. I note that colleagues across the House have welcomed the Bill. I also commend the Minister on the work she has done with the teaching unions to ensure the Bill has a smooth passage.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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The Minister is welcome to the House this afternoon. I should begin by saying that when the Teaching Council first entered into my profession it was probably one of the most hated institutions ever formed in the State. It is my hope that over time, teachers will embrace the Teaching Council and see it for what it is, the professionalisation of teachers. I, for one, am happy to be a member of the Teaching Council and will happily pay my fee although I have had some questions down the years at the amount of money I have to pay to be registered with the Teaching Council. I understand the council has a war chest now of some €13 million which I hope is not going to be used purely to discipline teachers.

A reference was made to the construct of the Teaching Council and the number of teachers represented on it. I reject any suggestion that this is in some way wrong. I recently visited Finland and one of the aspects which impressed me highly was how the profession regulated itself and how being a teacher and being held in high esteem in the community was something teachers welcomed and they themselves sought for the highest of standards.

I am concerned about the issue of the registration fee. In the good old days when the Teaching Council started, we used to have deduction at source whereby one could pay the registration fee by deduction from salary over the year. This disappeared for some reason and this was a regressive decision. I had been able to sign my deduction at source form at the commencement of my registration and I could then forget about it. We need to re-examine this method of payment because it would ensure that no teacher falls foul of the system for not having paid the fee.

While I support this Bill I intend to table some amendments. The Minister has rejected amendments in the other House but we will try again. Some of the language used in the Bill is weak or vague. My colleagues, Deputy Boyd Barrett and Deputy Coppinger tried to influence the Minister's thinking on some of the language and I will have another go when the time comes on Committee Stage.

There has been a lot of talk about poor performance by teachers. My colleague, Senator Walsh, referred to the system whereby one teacher has an honours class and another teacher has a very poorly performing pass class. In some cases schools cream and stream by putting the better students into one particular group and the poorer performing students into another group. I am not so sure it is such a bad idea. There are arguments that contend there should be cross-pollination within the class and mixed ability. There are arguments for and against both approaches. However, I would never blame the teacher because a class performed badly. It may be the fault of the teacher but it is not necessarily the case and it is not the default position. It is my belief that most teachers set out every day to do the best job they can. Every now and then we have a bad year and if we have a bad year maybe we do not perform as well as we should and in that case the system has to have a way of supporting a teacher who, for one reason or another, dropped below par.

I sincerely hope we are not hoping to develop in the country a sort of Stepford wives solution to education where we have all the teachers programmed to deliver their programmes in exactly the same way at the same time. I hope that is not what we are aiming for. In the case of poor performance there has to be some form of exit strategy to help those who are under-performing or who are not suited to teaching. I have come across a number of those in my life where after a period of difficulty they have come to the conclusion that they should never have entered the profession in the first place. It is a very tough profession in which one is constantly on show, constantly under the scrutiny of the students and as the students get older they do not suffer fools gladly. We need to look at some form of exit strategy that would allow somebody who may find it is not suitable for him or her, to exit the profession.

I refer to the inspectorate. I have great respect for all the inspectors I have met and for the chief inspector who is very supportive of teaching. However, I note that in Finland they do not have inspectors and teachers seem to do very well and are held in very high esteem.

My colleague, Senator Ó Clochartaigh referred to bullying in the workplace. There is no doubt that over my period of seven years at national level in my union and for 15 or 20 years before that at local level, we have encountered cases of bullying in the workplace. It is not always a case of bullying because sometimes it is robust management. I have heard teachers complain they are being bullied when they were told they were late for class three times in a week. That is not bullying. However, the problem exists and the power equation that exists in the school sometimes is abused. I have seen principal teachers go outside their remit and introduce things that the Department never thought of in the form of practices that would not necessarily be endorsed by the Department. That is an area we need to examine.

Overall I welcome the Bill. There are some issues regarding the areas of appeal with the lower sanctions. The teacher is normally teaching in a small village or town where once his or her name is damaged it is damaged for all time. We must look at the appeals process. The Minister is aware of the amendments that the various teaching unions want and which I will table on Committee Stage.

Photo of Caít KeaneCaít Keane (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister. This is an important Bill which is very welcome. I attended the presentation by the Teaching Council on the Bill. I will ask the Minister about her proposed Committee Stage amendments. The strengthening of the role of the Teaching Council is very welcome and its job is a very necessary one. Senator Bacik outlined the provisions and aim of the Bill. One aspect of the Bill is to do with the conduct of the disciplinary hearings in public and the question of the balance of rights. I ask the Minister to comment about the balance of rights between teacher and student. The Minister intends to bring forward amendments on Committee Stage. I ask the Minister if the wording of those amendments could be made available to us in plenty of time rather than on the day before so that we can digest and examine them. We need to cross the ts. Speaking of crossing the ts, we have the TUI, ASTI and the INTO all making representations to us. As a former teacher I know that one must choose good role models for oneself. I would not be choosing Deputy Boyd Barrett or Deputy Ruth Coppinger. I am sure Senator Craughwell, as a teacher, always chose his role models well. I advise him to do the same on this one-----

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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We might ask you make that statement stand up before the day is out.

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
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Senator Keane without interruption. I ask Senator Craughwell to direct his comments to the Minister.

Photo of Caít KeaneCaít Keane (Fine Gael)
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I refer to the issue of the seriousness threshold in cases of professional misconduct. The definition of words is very important but the primary Act does not contain a definition. The interpretation of language is important when reading a Bill and interpretations can differ. Most of our teachers are good teachers but the exit strategy issue will need to be considered. The implications for non-registration was a point raised with me but this penalty was also contained in the original Act and has always been there or for as long as I can remember. There must be a penalty for non-registration because otherwise why would one bother paying the registration fee. Deduction at source would be a good idea, in my view.

Other speakers have dealt with the vetting issue which is the most important procedure. There is no right to appeal in this regard. The Attorney General has stated such a right is not necessary. I do not quite understand why it is not necessary and I ask the Minister to explain it for me in more detail. Recent legal cases have touched on the issue of a right to appeal. The wording in this Bill is the same as pertains in other regulations on the right to appeal. Perhaps there is nothing which is different in this legislation, but if somebody believes he or she has been wronged or that something has not been interpreted correctly, he or she should have some rights. Why has the Attorney General not seen fit to include such a provision?

I attended the climate change conference in Maynooth yesterday. The former President, Mrs. Mary Robinson, was present and the issue of Trinity College Dublin arose. It should be an issue not only for the Department of Education and Skills but for all Departments, including the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. I am my party's spokesperson on the environment and I will keep saying this. I compliment Senator Ivana Bacik on raising the issue while the Minister was here today because we must lead the way on climate change. We may not be able to do everything we want to do, but if we start in our own buildings, others might follow. The Teaching Council might not be the best loved organisation, but it is necessary to have it.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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I thank all Senators for their contributions. Senator Cáit Keane said she wanted to receive a copy of proposed amendments on time. I will note that point, as I am sure my officials will to ensure the Senator will have time to consider them. Obviously, amendments will also be brought forward by Members of the Seanad, which is welcome.

I agree with what has been said by a number of contributors, beginning with Senator Jim Walsh, about the high regard in which teachers are held in Ireland. That is the basis on which we are beginning the debate. Senator Gerard P. Craughwell was right when he said this kind of legislation enhanced the reputation of teachers because it made it clear that there were mechanisms for vetting teachers to ensure children were safe and for dealing with the tiny number of cases in which there are complaints. The Teaching Council will have the power to ensure teachers on the register are fit and proper. This will provide for transparency and a level of confidence for the public in the quality of teachers, but I do not think anybody is questioning that teaching is of a very high quality.

On the number of teachers who are vetted - 54,000 out of 90,000 - it is on the basis of non-statutory vetting. Senator Ivana Bacik has referred to a rolling system whereby we want to address first those not currently vetted and then reach teachers who have been vetted on a non-statutory basis such that eventually over a period of time everybody will be vetted under the statutory system with which we are dealing. We will gradually vet all teachers, but we want to concentrate first on those who have not been vetted. Most of these teachers have been teaching in the same school for a period of time.

The issue of soft information was raised by Senator Jim Walsh and others. Soft information is defined in the National Vetting Bureau Act which was referred to by Senator Ivana Bacik who spoke about the importance of commencing that legislation. This is felt in the Government generally and will be addressed. The Bill complements that Act under the auspices of the Department of Justice and Equality. Soft information is referred to in the National Vetting Bureau Act as information other than on criminal convictions held by An Garda Síochána that leads to a bona fidebelief a person presents a threat to children or vulnerable persons.

A number of Senators spoke about the membership of the Teaching Council. Different views were expressed on whether it should or should not be composed mainly of teachers. It comprises 11 registered teachers at primary level, 11 registered teachers at post-primary level, two persons nominated by the colleges of teacher education, two persons nominated jointly by universities or higher education institutions, four persons nominated by management organisations, two persons nominated by the National Parents Council and five persons appointed by the Minister, of whom one is nominated by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and one by IBEC. The reason for the predominance of teachers is to ensure the profession is directly involved in regulating itself. Other regulatory bodies have been set up in this way.

Senator Jim Walsh raised the issue of teachers not being paid. A teacher must be registered with the Teaching Council to teach, but the provision that he or she cannot be paid from moneys provided by the Houses of Oireachtas is to ensure teachers are registered. I am not sure if I have been very clear on that point, but I can clarify it on Committee Stage.

The issue of the system being more efficient was raised by Senators Michael Mullins and Ivana Bacik. This will definitely be a more efficient system because the Teaching Council will hold the vetting declaration such that if a teacher moves from one school to another, he or she will not have to be re-vetted. This is a very practical measure and the electronic method will make it even more efficient.

A few Senators referred to the issue of security of tenure. I am implementing the report produced this year by Mr. Peter Ward will will give teachers more security of tenure.

Senators Trevor Ó Clochartaigh and Cáit Keane raised the issue of further amendments. The main amendment will concern the provision providing for the holding of hearings in public but which will allow them to be held in private if there are good reasons for so doing.

Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh also raised the issue of SNAs. The Teaching Council regulates teachers. The vetting of SNAs is a very important issue, but it is not related to this legislation.

It is not intended that political activity will prevent a person from being registered in accordance with this legislation.

A fit-for-purpose provision in respect of teaching in Irish in either English or Irish language schools would be more relevant to a person's subject qualifications at post-primary level or teaching qualifications at primary level, but we are examining this issue as it affects the Gaeltacht. Consultation is occurring on schools trí lán-Ghaeilge in which I am sure the Senator is participating.

Senator Ivana Bacik referred to the commencement of the National Vetting Bureau Act. I can check with the Teaching Council the issue of deductions at source. I do not know why the position has changed. People receive reminders if they do not re-register. The question of whether we need to be even more kind to those who have not registered arose in the debate in the Dáil. I do not know why the making of deductions has been ended, but we will check the matter with the Teaching Council.

While we are not looking for automatons or conformity, we want to ensure people are fit to be teachers. It is not about everybody being the same. Senator Cáit Keane spoke about the balance of right on the issue of public versus private hearings. We want to get the balance right. If we say the default position is that we will hold them in private, we will immediately raise questions. However, if they are held in public, one can make a case to hold them in private. This strikes the right balance. We will debate the issue on Committee Stage when I will bring forward an amendment.

I am not sure I am competent to talk about climate change because I am not the Minister responsible. The Green Flag movement is alive and well in schools. Certainly students are very aware of the importance of handing on the planet to the next generation as they have received it. I am very impressed with the work being done in schools in that regard.

I am not sure whether I have covered everything that has been raised, but I will revisit a number of these issues on Committee and Report Stages.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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Before we conclude, I bring to the Minister's attention the fact that there might be an opportunity to include a provision in the Bill to address the problem in further education where some teachers cannot be registered with the Teaching Council but are required to keep the colleges going.

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
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We will have plenty of time on Committee Stage to go through all the issues in detail.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
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When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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Next Tuesday.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 30 June 2015.

Sitting suspended at 6.20 p.m. and resumed at 7 p.m.